Even without their logos, you might be able to identify them as Polaroid products. They’re all adorned with the company’s rainbow-colored “spectrum” stripe and have white plastic housings and big red buttons connecting them to other Polaroid cameras since the 1970s.
It’s just that these Polaroid products are not instant cameras. These are Bluetooth speakers, the first result of a new initiative by the most famous name in instant photography to get people to see it as a brand that goes beyond instant photography.
The lineup includes four Polaroid readers – the P1, P2, P3 and P4 – ranging from an almost $60 pocket-sized version with a carabiner to a beefy $290 model with a boombox-like handle. All support Bluetooth streaming, work with a Polaroid Music smartphone app that has five stations as well as Apple Music integration (Spotify is in the works), and can be used in pairs as wireless stereos.
It may not be intuitively obvious that the world needs Polaroid speakers or that the company needs to manufacture them. After all, instant photography, once left for dead in the wake of the digital revolution, is alive and well. Today’s Polaroid is actually an amalgamation of the remnants of the original Polaroid and The Impossible Project, a startup that saved Polaroid film from oblivion; he came back to life in a way few would have predicted.
But Polaroid president Oskar Smolokowski says the company’s symbiotic relationship with a single, decades-old analog technology is also limiting: “It still inspires people and is magical, but it can’t be the only thing. what we do if we want to give Polaroid a future.” .”
If Polaroid were to try something new, the music had a certain logic. The company had long toyed with audio around the edges: the original Polaroid and The Impossible Project tried to find a way to pair a snippet of sound with an instant photo, though neither effort was successful. There was even a Polaroid transistor radio that was powered by battery juice left over from depleted film packs.
Yet the strongest argument for expanding into music is that the Polaroid brand is already associated with creativity, fun times and social connection, which is why people love music. “It’s a space that suits us,” says Smolokowski.
Brand-stretching, for better and for worse
This will be far from the first time Polaroid has expanded beyond instant photography, which, it’s easy to forget, wasn’t even its original business. The very name of the company is a clue: it stems from founder Edwin Land’s breakthroughs in synthetic polarizers, which he made years before turning to photography. Polaroid polarized sunglasses predate cameras and are still available, although made by a different Polaroid than the instant camera.
Like Polaroid’s current cameras, the speakers evoke its aesthetic without feeling stridently retro.
In recent decades, however, expanding the Polaroid brand has generally been a sign of trouble. In the 1980s, as instant photography was beginning to reach its peak as a business, the company began selling 35mm film and blank video tape. Later, after it ceased production of instant cameras and film, it survived only as a zombie-for-hire brand, available for use on . . . well, seemingly anything from TVs to smartphones to game controllers to yoga mats. And yes, there have been a number of previous Polaroid Bluetooth speakers.
The household names of yesteryear will always have residual value, which is why you can buy everything from Westinghouse ceiling fans to Bell & Howell bug zappers. With its new readers, however, Polaroid is trying something more thoughtful.
Like its current cameras, the speakers evoke the familiar Polaroid aesthetic while simultaneously feeling fresh rather than retro-shrilly. They have dials that let you adjust the volume and select favorites with satisfying physics that have become rare in modern consumer electronics. All but the smallest have round LED screens that display text and icons unapologetically.
There are even Easter eggs for Polaroid fans. The red play button is exactly the same size as the company’s camera shutter buttons, for example, and you can carry the speakers by attaching the same neck strap you would use with a device Polaroid photo.
The exuberance of gamers is striking at a time when device design often seems happy enough to fade into the background. Most competing products are “either black or muted colors,” says Smolokowski. “We just wanted to celebrate a bit more – lively and bright – so the colors are also an important aspect.”
“It’s something that’s very Polaroid in a way,” says design director Ignacio Germade. “The Polaroid camera is not something that disappears into the room. He has a certain presence. It’s something you put in a room full of people, and suddenly it has an effect on the room. It has an effect on people. And in designing the speakers, we wanted to do the same thing.
Then there’s the smartphone app. With a total of five stations so far, it won’t be anyone’s only source of music, but Polaroid sees it as an important part of the whole.
“We spent a lot of time thinking, ‘Okay, what kind of music gives you the emotional response you get when you look at the Polaroid image?’ explains Germade. This has led the company to create human-run stations, with names like Polychrome (“Like a rave in a kaleidoscope”) and Royal Pine (“Uplifting anthems with real roots”), which are not strictly programmed by genre or decade. You might hear Santana and Rosalía on the same station, says Germade.
Between the new speakers and the app, the goal is to create an experience that could be a springboard for further exploration of music as a category, although Polaroid isn’t talking about where that might go. But just in case anyone is wondering if his passion for his most famous activity is waning, think again.
“We’re definitely still very serious about instant photography,” says Smolokowski, who adds that the company is working on “our first, optically more capable camera” for release next year.
After all, even if this Polaroid music thing takes off, it’s a safe bet the brand will always keep one thing in mind first: the images that develop before your eyes.